Last Weekend at the Portage: Coming Back to Life

I can’t believe another week has gone by already. While it seems like time should be moving slowly, I am finding it to be the opposite as my days at home fill up with work and chores. It’s as if I never left my schedule. And yet because I am home, it sometimes seems like I don’t have a schedule.

Winter returned twice this week and I was going to post a few pictures of birds in the snow but time got away from me and I’m not feeling too nostalgic for snow at the moment. It’s still chilly overnight but I think we are finally going to start warming up. And of course the question lurking right behind that is, Then What?

I went to the Portage last Saturday and Sunday mornings, because both days turned out fairly decent weather-wise. The variety of species differed somewhat between the two days, in that the Yellow-Rumped Warblers who posed for pictures and the one Ruby-Crowned Kinglet were present on Saturday but not detectable on Sunday. That sort of thing. On the other hand, I had the Bluebird on Sunday. So it goes.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler
American Robin

I’ve been seeing Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers (I call them “Sappies”) in the neighborhood all week, and had one in my yard last weekend, but this is the only one I’ve been able to sort of capture so far.

There were a lot of White-Throated Sparrows, or at least more of them than the other species. Below this grouping is a short recording of one of them singing. He had a really nice version of their song, which has always been one of my favorites.

I had no idea what was going on with these Red-Winged Blackbirds on the trail as I approached them on Saturday, but on Sunday I noticed that someone has been leaving a little pile of birdseed, so that explains the gathering and likely the behavior. Feeding the animals is a no-no. But I imagine there are more people walking the trails these days than normally do, and I think that’s a good thing. Maybe we will all treasure being outside more after our quarantine subsides.

The Tree Sparrow was seen on Saturday and not on Sunday. I don’t expect to see one again until late fall.

The female Red-Wingeds have now joined the males and everybody’s ready to start working on the next generation. On Saturday I must have had more than 50 Red-Winged Blackbirds at the Portage. I don’t think I ever saw that many last year. It could be some were passing through. It will be interesting to see how many remain to nest.

There was one male Blue-Winged Teal hanging out with a couple of Mallards.

I only got a glimpse of the crown on this Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

Woodpeckers – there were a lot of Northern Flickers. And Downy Woodpeckers are always present. I always hear a Red-Bellied Woodpecker, but don’t always see one. It was also nice to see a Hairy Woodpecker. I keep hoping I will see a Red-Headed Woodpecker here again.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

This looks like a young male Red-Winged Blackbird. He must be a late-bloomer.

Robins are everywhere.

As things are just starting to turn green, mosses were attractive.

People have been reporting Hermit Thrushes so I was happy to see one. I miss seeing half a dozen of them at once downtown in the city, but maybe it’s better to see one in the woods than a lot of them on turf grass.

Hermit Thrush

There were two Turkey Vultures flying around, at then at one point they landed in the trees.

A lovely Mrs. Cowbird. What more can I say?

The trees are starting to bud and this will all burst into green soon.

If you click on the dove pictures you can see nesting material in its bill easier.

There are a lot of Cardinals at the Portage but they’re not always easy to capture, especially this time of year when they’re busy setting up territories.

So here is the Bluebird of Happiness. I don’t get to see Bluebirds too often, so this was a special treat.

I plan to go out this weekend and with any luck, there will be even more birds to see. Migration continues, and I suspect the birds are having a better time of it without so much human interruption.

Snow: Before and After

Hairy Woodpecker at the Portage

Yesterday morning I got up and went to see how the birds were doing at the Portage. It was a cold, windy, bleary morning, and as far as I could tell, nobody was having a good time.

When the large black blob in the distance turned out to be a windblown Bald Eagle, I was encouraged to investigate. I couldn’t get very close to where it was perched high above the railroad tracks.

The Red-Winged Blackbirds weren’t singing much. This one appeared to look as if he was reconsidering his early arrival.

I did finally manage to see one of perhaps four Song Sparrows who were carrying on vocally as if spring had sprung. But he wasn’t flaunting his presence.

Perhaps the nicest surprise was an Eastern Phoebe. I felt for him, though, as there were no bugs to eat and it made me wonder what else he could get by on a couple days before the scheduled warmup.

Even the Robins weren’t having a good time.

The cardinals have been singing for weeks. They started earlier than the Robins. There was one singing along with the piano a few days ago. I was surprised, since the windows aren’t open. He must have heard the keyboard through the front door and I assume he was perched on the little apple tree outside of it. Below is a recording of Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C Major from the Well-Tempered Clavier, and just at the end where I start playing some other chords you can hear the cardinal singing along.

Northern Cardinal at the Portage
Cardinal singing with us toward the end of this clip

This Downy Woodpecker was foraging low with the sparrows.

I never did see if there was a hen sitting on a presumably well-hidden nest who belonged to this Mallard but he was definitely taking it easy.

I really hoped we were done with this snow stuff, although it was less than a minor inconvenience considering I didn’t have to go anywhere and it has now melted away. These few photos are from yesterday afternoon through the porch windows. The wet snow was falling and I didn’t feel like joining the birds in it, but I wanted to commemorate its arrival since I banished all my snow-in-the-yard photos from this “past” winter to external storage to make room for spring.

I’ve gone back to the photos from my August trip to New Brunswick and Grand Manan and hope to follow with a post or two featuring bright sunshiny blue skies shortly.

I hope you are in good health, and pray you are making some sense out of all the chaos. We will get through this.

Summer Comes to the Portage

Blue Dasher

I have been going to the Portage just about every weekend this month, and I’ve also been working my tail off during the week, so it’s been hard to sit down and make sense of anything. These few pictures are the highlights from this past Sunday morning.

Right away I was suddenly engaged following a hungry vireo as it foraged not too far away, right about eye-level. It was a Warbling Vireo, but I had never seen such a wide-eyed one before. He looked surprised to see me as well.The Portage has five or more nesting pairs and I hear them singing all the time, but rarely see them. This is the closest and longest I’ve ever observed a Warbling Vireo.

Summer brings out lots of dragonflies and some other critters I don’t often see, like this Bullfrog.

The frog fanciers were present too, although instead of fishing, I saw them only perched or in flight this time.

Maybe you’ve noticed how bouncy goldfinches are in flight, they seem to propel themselves through the air, and that’s exactly what they were doing on Sunday. The only goldfinches I saw were flying, below.

Not seeing many butterflies, but there seem to be a reasonable number of dragonflies. And then there was this metallic turquoise beetle…

Juvenile robins are gawky and spotted and just generally at an awkward stage…

In general, the Baltimore Orioles weren’t posing, and if they were still for a moment they were still quite far away. They weren’t even bothering to sing hardly at all. Everybody is busy rearing youngsters.

Baltimore Oriole

After crazy busy at work I am looking forward to the four-day weekend. Weather permitting, I hope to venture a little farther than the Portage; I feel the need to at least attempt to see some grassland birds. But if the weather doesn’t cooperate, there’s plenty more to do – like finish processing the Texas pictures and those from my previous visits to the Portage this month. One cannot plan ahead anymore. The weather changes ever five minutes, so I am going with the flow. It’s been thundering and raining tonight as I write. Even if we’ve managed to totally mess it up, weather is still something we cannot control. Haha.

A Philadelphia Vireo

We must have been right in the migratory path for these birds, because I can’t remember ever seeing them before, but this spring I got to photograph two individuals. This short post is a tribute to a special encounter I had with this one Philadelphia Vireo at the Portage on May 27.

There’s nothing flashy about this bird, and observing a gray bird so closely on a rather gray-sky day was totally unexpected. I just stood and photographed this beautiful creature while it gleaned what I can only imagine were infinitesimal insects caught in what might appeared to be some web filament.

So if you ever get this good a look at a vireo, you can always confirm the genus because they all have blue feet!

I will be back with a more traditional post soon. I just wanted to devote an entire page to these pictures because the encounter was so special. A bird I was barely familiar with gave me an entire tutorial about its habits and appearance in the space of maybe five minutes. I am forever grateful.

Hodgepodge

My bird observation life has been peripatetic at best. Last Saturday was probably the best recent weekend day to go out, but I was at our annual choir retreat for three hours in the morning to prepare for this coming Choir Sunday. The weather was predictably cloudy and more miserable last Sunday so I stayed at home and took some pictures of the yard crowd.

I did manage to get out on March 31st to the Portage. Even though it was chilly and cloudy, I wanted to see if there were any new arrivals. For the most part I saw regular visitors. One White-Breasted Nuthatch was particularly cooperative. Perhaps he is related to the one who visits my yard on occasion.

The locals were all busy.

Perhaps the most evident Sign of Spring was seeing the return of a Turkey Vulture.

March 31st at the Portage still sleepy.

In the yard, I am happy to still have two Pine Siskins hanging out. I hope this means they have become regular visitors.

The Goldfinches are looking a little in-betweenish these days.

Not too clear pictures through the porch windows and screens but the House Finches are bonding. There’s a Pine Siskin mixed in the group shots too.

When I managed to stand in the backyard and wait for the birds to come back for photos, a male Downy Woodpecker made sure he checked out everything.

I still have a Dark-Eyed Junco or two, as of Sunday. And even though we had a nice warmup on Monday and Tuesday, the winds have shifted and we are back into chilly, windy gloom.

In a way I am glad I have not had time to start cleaning up my yard because there are undoubtedly a lot of overwintering insects I don’t want to disturb.

This Saturday I’m “leading” a walk at Columbus Park. So far the weather looks promising. I expect we will have a few migrants and with any luck I’ll get some pictures of them.

I’m looking forward to Choir Sunday. Our last rehearsal is tonight. We are singing a wonderful work by John Kramer entitled “The Immigrant Experience.” If you are anywhere within striking distance of Oak Park, Illinois, I urge you to attend either one of the two Sunday services at Unity Temple. Yes, this is a plug, but for a good cause. The music will be breathtaking.

With any luck I’ll be back to this page before next Saturday. Then I will be gone for a birding trip to Big Bend and the Hill Country in Texas. It’s been on my list of places to visit for a long time, and I wanted to see it before any habitat is destroyed by the border fiasco.

Long Holiday Weekend…

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White-Breasted Nuthatch

Choir tour and back-to-work notwithstanding, I feel remiss about not having managed a blog post until now. It’s not for lack of photographic experiences, but more my lack of energy and planning. What I have tried to plan to do with my four-day weekend is get in as much outdoor time as possible. Starting with Thursday…

Portage - 11-22-18-4760

 

I went to the Portage even though it was cloudy and windy. Unsurprisingly I did not see many birds and those I saw did not make taking their pictures easy. But the first capture proved to be a rare one. Apparently it’s a little late for a Field Sparrow…even if it’s not a great image the bird was unmistakable.

Field Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrows were in abundance, but still not so easy to see, along with the American Tree Sparrows.

White-Throated Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

Downy Woodpeckers winter at the Portage so they tend to stand out even when they aren’t trying to.

The Portage Pillage continues. I’m not sure if these trees were invasive or in bad shape but they are gone now. The third photo below shows the shallow water frozen, prohibiting waterfowl visitors.

The female cardinal below was not staying for a better shot.

NOCA - 11-22-18-4770Only two days earlier with the prospect of sunshine in the afternoon, I managed to get out of the office for a short walk over to the Lake Street bridge to see if there were any birds in the water.

None yet except for two Mallards napping on a log. But it wasn’t the Mallards that caught my attention – it was a bump on the log that created an optical illusion, looking very much like a Whip-Poor-Will on my camera. It wasn’t until I viewed the photographs on my computer that I realized this was a natural sculpture. So desperate was I to see a bird!

I will always be able to count on the Herring Gulls, even in the slow gaps between migrations…

HEGU - 11-20-18-4731Returning to Thursday, the sun came out in the early afternoon, which gave me a chance to visit with the birds in the yard. I can always count on an abundance of House Sparrows.

One of two male cardinals…

NOCA Yard - 11-22-18-4963I was pleased to see six American Goldfinches.

But my best subjects were a pair of White-Breasted Nuthatches. I haven’t seen them for a long time, but that’s likely only because their favorite time to visit is around 1:30 in the afternoon, when I am usually at work. The females have a grayer cap, otherwise they are pretty indistinguishable.

I’m glad to see that some of those spilled sunflower seeds are still worth eating…

NOCA Yard - 11-22-18-5032One more of a nuthatch.

WBNU Yard - 11-22-18-4989I went to Jasper-Pulaski with my friend Lesa yesterday to see all the Sandhill Cranes I missed when they flew over the Chicago area the last couple weeks. I’ll be back shortly with some of that spectacle. If you are caught up in a holiday weekend, I hope it is going well!

 

Fall Migration Continues II

YRWA Portage - 10-13-18-2668

Yellow-Rumped Warbler at Chicago Portage

And continues and continues and…I have been so busy birding every weekend it’s taking even longer to process the pictures. These are from last week – October 13 – Thatcher Woods and the Chicago Portage.

WTSP 10-13-18 Thatcher-2188

White-Throated Sparrow at Thatcher Woods

The birds blend in more and more with their surroundings, but I find it so intriguing. Although it does take almost twice as much effort to get the camera to focus on the bird.

LISP 10-12-18 Thatcher-2303

Lincoln’s Sparrow, Thatcher Woods

I was very pleased to find a Winter Wren hanging out with the sparrows and remaining warblers at Thatcher Woods. I always think of Don Kroodsma and The Singing Life of Birds when I see a Winter Wren, even if it’s not singing.

Much like two weeks earlier, there were still a lot of Palm Warblers and Yellow-Rumped Warblers at Thatcher Woods.

 

Here’s what the Portage looked like when I got there.

10-13-18 Portage-2436The Yellow-Rumpeds were foraging in the duckweed.

 

It was a pleasure to see several Hermit Thrushes. And nice to see them somewhere other than hopping around on park lawns downtown.

HETH 10-13-18 Portage-2477

Hermit Thrush, Portage

I got a brief, lucky look at a Belted Kingfisher flying over the pond.

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Belted Kingfisher

Some Song Sparrows are already practicing singing for next spring, which might explain why I have heard more than I have seen.

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Song Sparrow

Out on the road overlooking the compost piles that now decorate the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District property, I saw this Red-Shouldered Hawk land in the tree and sit for a long period of time.

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Red-Shouldered Hawk

Other raptors flew overhead, including the Sharp-Shinned Hawk below.

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Sharp-Shinned Hawk

It took me a while to realize that the birds below are Purple Finches. There seem to be quite a lot of them at the Portage this fall.

 

PUFI Portage - 10-13-18-2521

Purple Finch

Not to be confused – much – with House Finches…

HOFI Portage - 10-13-18-2583

House Finch

Ruby-Crowned Kinglets are still abundant. But the bird below right is a Golden-Crowned Kinglet. It was perched about a foot and a half in front of me and we bonded for a while, but it was much too close to get a picture of it then!

Still seeing Eastern Phoebes, although I expect fly catching is becoming more difficult as temperatures drop.

EAPH Portage - 10-13-18-2664

Eastern Phoebe

My last two photos are of Hermit Thrushes. The second one is for the russet color of its back in the sun…

HETH 10-13-18 Portage-2760HETH 10-13-18 Portage-2770I’ll be on a mission to get through my photos from this past weekend… Our weather seems to have calmed down a bit and we are in a crisp but sunny period. I love fall, maybe for its nostalgia…!

 

 

Robins and Red-Wingeds

RWBL 6-30-18-5698The heat is here and now more than ever the object of the game is to get up and out as early as possible, before it becomes unbearable. Birds are uniquely qualified to hide in the trees and stay cool that way. But it seemed like I was at last seeing numbers of American Robins and Red-Winged Blackbirds the last time I visited the Portage.

AMRO 6-30-18-5821I didn’t see any adult Baltimore Orioles but there were a couple youngsters like the one below, who was busy trying to take care of all those feathers.

BAOR 6-30-18-5770And in the same color scheme, there were a few Monarch Butterflies making their way through the patches of milkweed.

Monarch 6-30-18-5827A young rabbit paused on the trail.

Bunny 6-30-18-5943And the Indigo Buntings are quite numerous, even if it’s hard to find them. The hen below is showing off her prize which I’m sure she delivered to hungry nestlings.

 

I heard more males singing than I saw but I did manage to pluck this image out of the backlighting. The bird on the right looks more like a juvenile than a female.

 

The Great Egret was more visible this time, if still at quite a distance.

GREG Portage 6-30-18-5831I followed this Green Heron when it landed in the tree, only to realize its partner had been there hiding in plain sight all the time as two herons took off a moment later.

 

Perhaps my best find was an Orchard Oriole I could photograph. I have been seeing one or two but never long enough to take a picture. This bird was busy preening as well. Sorry to take advantage of the bird’s down-time but it seems like the only way to spend time with the summer residents.

 

The male and female Brown-Headed Cowbirds below were in the same tree but too far away from each other to catch together. On the way out of the parking lot later I saw four more cowbirds foraging in the grass.

 

Neither one of the photographs below, of a Great-Crested Flycatcher, are very good since he was partially hidden behind a twig, but I was glad to hear him and see him after I walked over by the railroad tracks to see if there was anything going on at all on the Des Plaines River.

GCFL 6-30-18-5886

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Great-Crested Flycatcher

An inadvertent flying robin.

AMRO 6-30-18-5944And the Orchard Oriole taking off.

OROR 6-30-18-5804I have tentative plans to go out early on the 4th if possible, but rain and thunderstorms seem to be in the forecast and that might stop me. It’s awkward to have a day off in the middle of the week, but a day off is a day off. Rain might actually be good enough to quell local firecracker explosions.

 

Embracing Zero

NOCA 12-25-17-3476Well, maybe more like Enduring Zero. Sitting inside reliving Ecuador did not seem to be the best way to spend Christmas Day, so I went out for a walk through the Portage and later visited with the yard birds. We had snow on Christmas Eve so the setting was perfect, and if a little cold, at least the sun was shining in the morning. Little did I know at the time that Christmas Day’s weather would be considered balmy by the next day’s standard. And this morning I walked to the train in -4 degrees Fahrenheit, before the wind chill.

Deer Tracks 12-25-17-3451

Deer tracks in the snow at the Chicago Portage

I drove around for 40 minutes to various Cook County Forest Preserves beyond the Portage, all with closed parking lots. I am not fond of driving but it was pleasant enough listening and singing along with a Peter Mayer (from Minnesota) CD, and there were hardly any cars and the sun was shining brightly. When I did returned to find the Portage parking lot open, I was the only visitor. The trails were covered the deer tracks.

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White-Throated Sparrow

When I did find a few birds, for the most part they were half hidden.

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The most commanding presence was snow covering everything. Beyond that, I found a few geese and ducks on the Des Plaines River.

Just as I was leaving, an adult Bald Eagle flew over. I didn’t get a picture, but below is a juvenile from last week’s Christmas Count on the Fox River.

BAEA 12-16-17-3400I decided to go home, fill the feeders and hang out with whoever showed up in the yard.

HOSP 12-25-17-3648

House Sparrows have learned to hang upside down if necessary…

There were a number of House Finches, and although the light was waning, I was surprised to see the males looking as red as they did.

 

HOFI 12-25-17-3667I am always happy to see Mrs. Cardinal and any hardy little Dark-Eyed Junco.

NOCA 12-25-17-3632DEJU 12-25-17-3562My male cardinal swooped in for a remaining hawthorn berry and posed with it. As if to verify his supreme redness.

NOCA 12-25-17-3657I still have the weather for Quito on my phone. The temperature seems to stay around 58-60 degrees. I think it’s time to go back to the pictures from Ecuador. If you made it this far, your reward is three pictures of Long-Tailed Sylphs. More to come in the next post.

Long-tailed Sylph 11-25-17-0813Long-tailed Sylph 11-25-17-0817Long-tailed Sylph 11-25-17-0801I find some satisfaction in knowing the days are already getting longer.

Winding Down

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Black-Throated Green Warbler

Last Sunday morning was my only chance to get out. Rain was predicted but luckily did not start until I left the Chicago Portage. Conditions became ever cloudier which affected everything photographic, but now I am looking back on what was then warmer weather with increasing nostalgia.

I had stepped off the trail to get a better look at something and while I was standing there, a beautiful Black-Throated Green Warbler popped up in front of me. In that moment I was thankful I didn’t have my most humongous lens which might have scared him off.

Below is how the Portage looked last Sunday morning.

Portage 10-22-2017-0066After the Black-Throated Green left, this Swamp Sparrow occupied the same spot for a moment.

SWSP 10-22-2017-9878The Black-Throated Green was unusually late for this location, so he earned a citation on the rare bird alert. But the rest of the birds were pretty predictable, like these three Mallards enjoying the open water.

MALL 10-22-2017-9940A Red-Tailed Hawk made a couple backlit appearances… If you click on the images you can see more detail.

I followed the large white rump patch of this Northern Flicker in flight until it landed far across the pond.

Below, two birds that herald various stages of the approach toward winter…a Dark-Eyed Junco, a snow bird, and likely the last Yellow-Rumped Warbler until spring.

The other likely late-ish warbler is the Palm Warbler below.

PAWA 10-22-2017-9951And where the preserves were crowded with kinglets the previous week, I now saw only one, a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, below.

RCKI 10-22-2017-0116On the home front, after a short sprinkle but before ensuing downpours, my yard was full of House Sparrows.

HOSP 10-12-2017-0359But I did still have a couple White-Crowned Sparrows who now rely on me to put out some partially chewed-up spray millet sprigs in the compost.

WCSP 10-22-17-0383WCSP 10-12-2017-0374Hanging out with the House Sparrows by the back fence was a Northern Cardinal.

NOCA 10-22-17-0417Busy 10-22-17-0409A few House Finches managed to forage on the ground.

After weeks of preparation, I jointed the Unity Temple choir in our “Best of Unity Temple Choir” concert last night. We sang for nearly two hours. I feel we did well, at least if the audience response is any indicator. It was exhausting fun.

It’s still hard to believe that the milestone has passed, however. Without much time to reflect, I am moving onward to the next challenge, which will be at work tomorrow morning. I leave you with a contented-looking House Sparrow.

HOSP 10-12-2017-0354